Tree of Life
British artist Rachel Whiteread has created a new work of art for the building’s façade – her first permanent public commission in the UK.
The Whitechapel Gallery’s 1901 façade incorporates an imposing, yet mysteriously blank rectangle. It was originally conceived for a mosaic, which proved too large and expensive. Over a century later the frieze is now completed by one of Britain’s most important artists.
Whiteread is internationally renowned for her sculpture which often takes existing architectural structures as its starting point. She came to prominence in 1993, with her cast of an entire Victorian house in east London, where she lives and works. Although this was dismantled, her Holocaust Memorial in Vienna and Water Tower in New York remain as permanent public sculptures.
The Gallery’s towers each feature a Tree of Life – an Arts and Crafts motif symbolizing social renewal through the arts. For this new work of art Whiteread has cast their leaves in bronze to create an exhilarating flurry across the frieze. Four reliefs, casts of windows, stand as reminders of previous architectural interventions. Inspired by the tenacious presence of urban plants like buddlea, which the artist calls ‘Hackney weed’, Whiteread has covered the leaves and branches in gold leaf, making them part of London’s rooftop repertoire of gilded angels, heraldic animals and crests.
The commission is made possible by the Art Fund and is part of the London 2012 Festival, creating a lasting artistic legacy for one of the city’s most important streets.
Watch behind the scenes films from the making of Rachel Whiteread's work on The Space
The Art Fund, Arts Council England, Lottery Fund, The Henry Moore Foundation and Mayor Of London.